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How Tea is Processed
How the leaves from the tea plant are processed determines what type of tea it will become. In general, processing involves allowing or prohibiting oxidation. The more a tea plants leaves are allowed to oxidize, the darker the color of the leaf and the more stiff it is. Black tea is a heavily oxidized tea, in contrast to Green Tea, which is processed to limit oxidation. White tea is a unprocessed tea - the leaves undergo no processing at all.
Green tea is processed by having the leaves steamed or pan fried soon after being harvested from the tea plant. This prevents oxidation, keeping the leaves soft, pliable and green in color. Following this, green tea leaves are usually rolled into various shapes in order to facilitate the drying process. Through continuous rolling as well as additional steaming or pan frying, the leaves for green tea are continually dried until they reach a moisture content of 4%. The vastly different types of green tea are accomplished by changing how a tea is dried.
Black tea is created from tea leaves by allowing the tea leaves to wither. This involves simply laying out the tea leaves on trough, allowing the movement of the air over the leaves to dry out the tea. Once the leaves moisture content has been reduced to around 60%, the leaves are then rolled. Following this, the tea leaves go through a vibrating sifter that removes clumps of wet or crushed leaves. After this, the leaves are then exposed to oxygen which begins the fermentation stage, which has the physical effect of taking the tea leaves through various color changes - from green through red to brown and finally to black.
Once the leaves have been fully fermented, the leaves are dried using air heated to around 210 degrees or slightly higher, reducing the moisture content of the leaves to about 3%. Once the tea has been fully dried, the tea is passed through electrostatically charged rollers that removes the stalks, stems and other residue from the leaves. Following this, various filters are used to classify the tea by grade - larger leaves go to one container, smaller leaves to another container, etc...
Oolong tea is processed similarily to black tea. The leaves are laid out and withered in the sun, the length of time being dependant upon the weather. The tea is then moved indoors, where it is laid out again and allowed to dry at room temperature. After about 8 hours, the tea is then dried through pan firing, which halts further oxidation of the tea leaves. Following the pan firing, the leaves are rolled, pan fired again, undergo yet another rolling and then a final pan firing.
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